Schubert and Soul Massage

My cat consistently preferred Brahms. There must have been something in the rich flavour and texture that drew her devotion. At the first phrase she would arrive on the right hand side of the music desk and settle until a tricky passage when she would walk slowly across to the left, using my nose as a passing anchor for her tail. This obliterated the music and made me sneeze, but her rumbling purr and dribbling was a sure sign of ecstatic appreciation. I hadn’t the heart to stop such a ritual.
I think our slight hearing loss progressed in parallel.
In her later years, she missed the discreet clang of the tin opener just as I missed the ultrasonic crackle of burning rice. I incinerated so many meals from the piano stool.

I have been thinking about silence and space. Action and stillness. So much music has ceaseless movement.

Schubert’s G major sonata is one of the first works to have arrested me with its use of sculptural arches of space. I heard it for the first time on the radio in 1992. It started my 20 year journey into late sonatas.
For the 48 minutes of Richter’s performance time stood still. I had to lie down and abandon everything so as to inhabit the exquisite present.
In the first movement architectural pillars of harmony give rise to soaring vaults between them. Their sonorous weight and long moments of release into silence allow time for the music to reverberate into the atmosphere and sink deep into your being. In each timeless pause after the sound has floated away, there is still time for the after-ripples to surface before the next wave carries you forwards. An out breath followed by an in breath. Each phrase, each movement has a life of its own, yet spanning the 25 page whole is one single heavenly arc, which as it closes descends home in perfect balance and to echo the opening statement. A rainbow from Alpha to Omega.
Richter’s arc was hewn with chisels of light. The smallest nuggets of phrase polished with silken intellect.

More recently I have been studying a form of rhythmical massage called Einreibung.
It is so like the Schubert.
The hands enfold a limb with soft warmth and a sense of utter well-being. Piano, crescendo, diminuendo. Rest, release, maintain contact. And then, in another key or altered position, finely graduated touch and release. Again and again, with the kind of fluid pulse that is deeply reassuring yet onward moving. Each shift flows seamlessly into the next. The beginning imparts a health-giving statement and the end, an echo of the beginning, a loving conclusion. It touches far more than the superficial soft tissues. In its unwavering attention, it brings heart-warmth and soul-healing.
The hands become unboundaried vessels. The instrument disappears and all that is left is the music.
I am sure that this kind of deep soul massage of the Schubert was what enabled my beloved friend to finally weep for his unborn child.
He had not had classical music as a natural part of his childhood in the way that I had, so was baffled by what he called my endless “plink-plonking” away at the keys…. but after nobly sitting through a mammoth concert of the G major, A major sonatas and the ultimate B flat major, he dissolved in a way he had never experienced.
After this he would ask me to play the slow movement of the B flat again and again. I think he needed to be able to rock into his sadness, safely contained and cradled by Schubert’s subdued grief.

Shortly before he died he said “ you know Jenny, ( he always called me by name) if you weren’t playing the piano all the time, and I am not saying you should stop…. there might be many other things you would love to do”
He was so right. His death was a wake up call to life. What a gift.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Inner Heart and Heat

Sitting outside in the elements. Painting, looking, sketching, taking time.
I cannot imagine a better way to experience at least a smattering of Icelandic wonderment.
Microscopic and macroscopic lenses reveal the vibrant living energy of this juvenile land mass. It creaks and splits to render vast eruptions of white hot rocks and flaming rivers of lava which then petrify as trolls must when they have outstayed the night. The remains are miles and miles of strange crisp scrapings covered in mossy pillows or windswept peaks of tufted grasses. A wolf here, a gnarled face, a colony of misshapen creatures, dragons, reptiles…… it is no wonder that there are such strong tales of the invisible ones. It would seem that fine black scree predominates, but on close inspection the minerals are so rich that green, red, amber as moss, lichen or fine grasses speckle the loose shale slopes. On the flat bogs between the shore and the foothills the deep grasses are blown like the straw blond manes of the horses that graze there. Tufts and peaks, waves and whorls.
Everywhere, from small rocks of wafer-light pumice to massive boulders. From tiny black grit to 100kg lifting stones. Horse tails and hay. Snow melt and watery reflections, there are repeating patterns and connections that only become evident in the attempt to reproduce them with stick/ink/brush/paints….
Awe at the first settlers who survived such extremes. Respect for the current islanders who live in such isolated areas and yet who communicate and cooperate so that shopping needs, for example, are everybody’s concern. (The nearest supermarket to our farm is some 40km away, so whoever is going rings around to see who needs what)
A message about a mobile phone, lost on the road ricocheted along the grapevine and it was returned within 24 hours.
Dry humour in the airport. “Please hold up your trousers for a little longer while you remove your belt”… Or, “if you think the weather is bad, just take off your coat”
I like Iceland and Icelanders.












Here are a few more paintings and an irresistible photo of Lo-ey


Can you spot the one that is upside down?
Johanna Berger was our excellent tutor, offering both warm support and lively challenge.
Annemarie was my lovely adventurous companion.
What a homecoming! Spring with an early flavour of summer heat to contrast with the cold and wet of the north.
One more thing. You should taste the whacky chocolate.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Turn the Page!

At last I am allowing myself to stop three perfectionism. Johanna has been encouraging us to loosen up by “turning the page”…. A bit like the elusive cup of tea. You have to get through several before the perfect ones lights up your soul.
A little freestyle evolution is emerging….





Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Land of Ice and Fire

Footage of molten, flaming lava steadily engulfing a whole village from the safety of a cinema seat was a great introduction to the extremes of Iceland. The consistent remark from those whose homes were devastated was “it was so beautiful”…. I can now just about comprehend the significance of the postcards which show a black wall of lava, shooting flames and sparks into the night sky.
We left the city yesterday and drove 2 and a half hours north west to a remote spot on the snaefells peninsula where we have settled into wooden cabins under a mountain of black and white.
Today we have been out in the elements to paint and scrabble with ink and stick /stone/grass.
I have joined a group of 6 to paint with the help and guidance of Johanna.
Already, on our first day we have jointly produced a large volume of sketches and gained pink noses and cold hands. Thankfully, although it has drizzled, the wind is only mild and the temperature at least 5 degrees.
In particular I have loved getting up close to several Icelandic horses. They are very friendly, relaxed and curious.
A couple of early efforts.





Within the deep black of the volcanic rock there is a wealth of colour ranging from red to green and amber. In the ever-changing light this glows from the mountainside. It is almost as though the heat must radiate up from the depths of the earth to meet with the ice and snow.
Such a stunning place to be.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Easter in Devon and a comparison of cameras!

These are some photos from Easter Saturday.








Recently, I have had such beautiful photos from my mobile phone that I was beginning to wonder if I would ever need to use my camera again… with a grumpiness that I had allowed myself to acquire yet another costly gadget.

I hope soon to have some spectacular pictures from Iceland and so thought I would fish out my ‘piece’.
I also had to dig into my memory to work out how to use it again. Settings that I used to know intuitively on an old Agfa and that I now have to twiddle with complicated buttons and menus to find… meanwhile the subject has moved!
How marvelous to opt for a sprinting man icon for a quick moving shot but equally satisfying to under-expose and focus carefully with a fast shutter speed to get that clear subject/soft background.
The wide angle is especially good for a big picture too, so although my other little camera and phone can almost be in contact for a macro shot, given time and patience, the Panasonic DCM G 10 is still my top favourite, with the more portable and bike-worthy, rapid zoom, point-n-shoot Sony as a back-up.
Ah, I am such a geek with kit!

There, I have let off a bit of steam, written a bit more about Sicily, had a good rant about cameras AND been out on my bike in the early, frosty Easter Monday.
Happy Easter to everyone.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Taste of Sicily

Noto was like many Sicilian towns in that it occupied the side and crest of a hill. Steep steps lead between the cobbles from one tier to another and tiny lanes wove in a labyrinth of ascending spirals and semi-circles.
I congratulated myself on finding a gentle winding gradient through alleys of ever decreasing width until my way was barred by a small boy. He was wielding a long baton and had a lot to say. Perhaps he required a password. His response was to raise the stick and bash me about the helmet and shoulders. It was steep and being heavily laden, I could not move fast enough. From here on everything happened in a blur. Sped up slow motion, where nothing moves and yet everything spins. He saw his advantage, trotted around to the front and jammed his stick into my front wheel. Even with my slow progress the force of my uphill flight spun the stick out, reminding of childhood spin-drier warnings. It smacked him hard on the wrist and I bawled a long string of the most abusive quasi-Italian musical expletives I could muster.. if I had been hurtling down hill at speed I would have broken my neck. To complete the assault, a two year old thug sitting at shoulder height on steps that led up between the houses lobbed broken bricks down at me.
Susan later told me that if I had knocked on a door to advise the parents of their offspring’s lack of manners, I would more than likely have received a black eye. A kinked mudguard stay and a spoke out of true was the only damage sustained. In fact, it was the only mishap to befall either Sir. Galahad or myself during the whole 12 months I was away and the only time I got to wield my spoke wrench. An engineering triumph, as the mysteries of bringing a wheel back to true required ‘the knowledge’….after which, of course, my nipples squeaked. (cycling terminology) A mild annoyance that reminded me of a very lucky escape.

It was time for a change of scenery. My friend Ruth was coming to join me for a few days and to replenish supplies of toothpaste, medication and, vitally, Devon Farm Chilli chocolate. I have had a long love affair with my toothpaste and, as a little euthymol goes a long way, this was only the third tube in 7 months. I especially enjoy the metal tube and woe betide anybody who squeezes it from the middle or causes unsightly dents. I may have imitated my father on this; ditto, his fastidiousness over sticky hands and oranges, with which he was utterly incapable.

I was to meet Ruth at Palermo, in the diagonal opposite corner of Sicily to Noto. However, two days before my departure, Franco announced that these plans would coincide with an all too familiar ‘Sciopero’.
A transport strike in Italy is such a common occurrence that there is a website dedicated to give those who want to travel on public transport advance information. There was to be a major strike involving buses, taxis, and fuel. It would cover precisely the period when Ruth and I had planned to tour around the west of Sicily in a hired car.
It looked a little uncertain to travel by bus, so I opted for the train. This journey along two sides of a triangle . … the east and then the north coast….. took 7 hours compared to the inland, diagonal 3 hour bus route, but was worth it to see the slow passage of landscape in all its contrasting rugged beauty and industrial concrete.
One of Susan’s language students had recommended a B & B in the centre of Palermo …. Piccolo Sicilia and Raffaela who came out to meet me with smiling baby Cesare.
On the pavement beside the door to her apartment, I bought 6 oranges from the stall holder and consumed half of them as soon as I got to my room. I could happily have kept him in business.

In the queue for the airport bus the next morning, there was a commotion. A man was contorting himself at great speed and high volume while clutching a mobile phone. With windmill arms, alternately bent double and then arching in a backwards spasm he roared and whined like a grotesque Katherine wheel. Each forward convulsion was punctuated with an emphatic knee-wards fling of his forearm, at the end of which, his thumb and finger tips, white with compression, were skewed tightly into an upturned claw. Every now and then he would hold his mobile at arm’s length as if to better abuse it and then he would throw his head back and clutch it two-handed as pop-star massages his microphone.. This performance lasted fully 20 minutes while an unmoved audience waited for the bus to arrive. He continued without pause until we were half way to the airport.
With a final finger-jab to the phone he turned to his female neighbour and bawled a blow by blow account of his “virilita insultato”. Poor girl. She shrank into the window curtains. Each time she turned to look out he joggled her elbow.

I was feeling so nauseated from the hubub and with having to sit too far back that I started to exercise witchcraft. For my sake and hers, I silently summoned him to vacate his front seat. It has never worked. This time though, it did. He started to pace up and down the bus in an attempt to widen his field of support upon which I darted forwards and settled into the space. When I pointed at my paper bag and mimed being sick, he studiously kept his distance. The girl and I exchanged an eyebrow.

At last in the airport I managed to recover and then through the sliding
doors staggered Ruth and ruck sack. Another adventure in bud.

for i-pad 2014 - 118.jpg

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bombello … trying word-things out on Sicily


Now a slow pendulum breathes an intuitive pulse into the days. Sun up; gathering wood  generates warmth to ward off the early chill. Acquired appetite for breakfast directs me to the outdoor kitchen. Eggs, tomatoes, wild asparagus and coffee. Ecstasy as my blood sugars rise. Light in metallic notes from spoons, and all the reflective surfaces…. little glints that fuse into a chorus to marry with the birdsong and the growing heat that pulls fresh aromas from damp soil.

Sequestered between the roots of an ancient olive tree I have called a truce on my own action and watch ants meet and greet from their lines. The hours pass. Oranges summon me to satisfy thirst. My limbs transfer to the trees to gather armful after armful as though another distant part of me initiated movement. Then from a new roof top vista I am absorbed into the landscape. Into the shapes of trees across the valley. Their individuality and their tidy rows. Colour and light. Form and shadow. Sound and silence. I stay until the heat is too much and hunger is saying it is noon. I prepare lunch. It takes all day to live, eat, wash, walk and gather, rest and play.

The shadows are turning and lengthening as the sun departs, setting a golden flame in the branches of the almond trees. Now it is time to use the last of the fading light to collect the morning’s wood harvest and light the wood burner. Candles light the kitchen for supper and my diary entry. The sun passes his lantern to the moon who conceals it behind the hill. In the sky above it, the light intensifies with maddening slowness until a tight curl of silver breaks over the rim. The suspense is broken. I watch her rise until the lower curve of the full moon’s circumference is poised upon crest of the hillside and from there she beams, cool upon my face to roll us into the night. I had been riveted to the spot for nearly 2 hours and am suddenly perished.

Even in Sicily the temperature has dropped but the wood burner has warmed my bedroom. At last I relinquish my outdoor theatre and exchange my rugs for a duvet and hot water bottle. Here in the traditional older buildings there is more air circulating. My bed is warm and dry. A cool draught flutters like a baroque flute, whispering arabesques around my head. I drift in the pre-sleep moments…. partially conscious and out-of-body, seeing myself from the willow ceiling rushes and unable to distinguish where my limbs join…. is my head attached? which way round am I? I must paint this sensory trance-dismemberment tomorrow. I am omni present; expanded into a trillion particles of melody that pirouette through the valley and around my room.
Suddenly my mass has condensed and I thud back into the bed with a shock of solidity. I wake and shrink back to myself and the chill of being enclosed, alone in a room and a huge area of land. I crave the safety of being outside and not penned within four walls. If anyone intrudes now I will not be able to get out. They will know I am here by the candle light in the windows. My heart thumps as I get up. I close all the shutters so that it is as black as a Welsh coal mine. A velvet-dark lullaby. Sleep descends and closes me down for the night.

out-of-body in Bombello

out-of-body in Bombello

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments